On The Reading and Writing of Short Stories

For one reason or another, I've found my literary life revolving more and more around short stories recently. While I set out to become a writer  - with no limitation on style or form - the accepted wisdom of the day has always been that you can't make a living - not real money - from short stories. Novel are where the big bucks are. Poetry? Forget it.

Still, I have always written short stories - usually between 1500 - 4000ish words - and I've read some fantastic collections in my time.

Some of the best short story collections I've read over the years are from very different authors, from different places and cultural backgrounds, and with different approaches to writing. They've all put out great books, though, with individual stories that build up a bigger picture as a whole.

 Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri

Bought this collection on a whim in Japan in the English language section of one of Tokyo's larger stories. Lahiri's colourful worlds, expertly built and with real soul and earth behind them, won me over straight away. That I left my copy there when I moved is  a tragedy for me and a blessing for whoever ends up finding it.

Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman 

Gaiman's always been an expert at giving us brief, teasing snapshots of a life, of a world just beyond our reach, and of a new way of seeing things, and Fragile Things - collecting stories he's had published, that have won awards, some that never did, and some poems - is a good and fairly accurate sampler for his wider fiction.

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios

I loved Life of Pi, and that led to Self, and that in turn led to this collection Martel published years before the fame and acclaim. The title story of this collection is a moving and pretty unique take on frame narrative and friendship and the importance of telling stories. The rest of the pieces are just as good.

Dubliners - James Joyce

The one, the only, Joyce, and his Dubliners - which I was introduced to in university. The stories are understated and power and comment on a whole lot of things I didn't understand as a twenty year old because, really, no twenty years old knows much of anything. His voice, though, and the writing, got to me even then

From reading to writing is never a very big leap. I've been exploring the genre more and more recently. I have a short story coming out in May as part of an anthology of retold Grimm stories. I've been submitting more of my short pieces to competitions and publishers, and reading more of what's out there - things like Unmanned Press' Short of the Month. Their March story is now up, and worth a read. Eventually there'll be twelve, and they'll make what's sure to be a fantastic anthology.

The Bath Short Story Award just this weekend closed to submissions, but you can keep your eyes out for the longlist coming on April 27, and the stories that you'll be able to read from that. And if you fancy your chances, the Bristol Prize deadlines isn't until the end of April - 4000 word max, any topic, any writer. I know for a fact my agency-bud Kat Ellis had a story highly commended for this prize.

Short stories are a great, great way to really hone your craft. Superfluous words have to get cut - there's a limit! The plot and the voice have to be right. It makes you focus on every word, every line of dialogue, and the pacing - oh, the pacing, If it's rushed or lazy in a novel length ms, writing a short story is like putting your work under a microscope and examining it for every single flaw you can find.

If you're looking for places to submit to, New Pages has some of the best call for submission pages I've found online and you're sure to find somewhere that's a fit for your style and genre and length. So why not? Get out there, get adventurous.

Plus, if you believe the New York Times, short stories have a bright, bright future in the world of e-publishing. Plus ├ža change, I say.

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